Anybody wondering whether Northwestern's lacrosse program might be suffering from a championship hangover had those doubts erased by the top-ranked Wildcats' first two games, both of them on the road against top contenders for this year's national title.
First came a whupping of No. 6 Stanford, 18-6, two weeks ago. Then, on Sunday, on a bitterly cold, windy and rainy afternoon, NU clinically dispatched No. 5 Duke, 13-5, pleasing the 30 or so Wildcat fans who braved the elements.
NU got out to a quick 5-1 lead, thanks to three goals by Shannon Smith, but Duke would strike back quickly late in the first half with two goals to make it a 5-3 game at the break. The Wildcats then completely dominated the second half, scoring the first three goals and blowing the game wide open.
Smith finished with five goals and an assist, while Erin Fitzgerald had four goals. Brianne Lomanto needed just five saves for the win, as NU's defense locked down the Blue Devil attack, forcing 15 turnovers, many of them in Duke's offensive zone. Draw controls were 7-2 in favor of Duke at the half, but the second half went 8-3 in favor of NU.
After the game, I got a chance to talk to head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
SoP: You've beaten the No. 6 team in the country, and now today, you knocked off No. 5. You've got to be feeling pretty good about your team, but I know that coaches are never satisfied. How do you think your team is doing?
KAH: I think we did a good job coming out today and following a game plan and executing, and we were able to get some momentum in the second half. We played pretty disciplined and that's been a focus, getting better every game, and Ithink it was a good job. The team really played together today.
SoP: Not to take away anything from your offense, obviously with the 13 goals, but the defense really stood out today. Brianne made some nice saves early, and your defense really took away a lot of Duke's offensive chances. What was the difference there?
KAH: Just we tried to take away certain things for Duke, and we were able to really communicate. Coming up with the ground balls, the 50/50 balls was key for us.
SoP: Draw controls seemed to be a problem in the first half, but things really changed in the second. Did you guys make some adjustments there?
KAH: We did, we made some adjustments, talked to our centerpeople at halftime and were able to come up with a lot in the second half, which was huge. It was 7-2 (on draw controls) at halftime and that obviously was not in our favor, so coming up with more possession was big for us.
SoP: Shannon Smith has been such a big scorer for you guys, winning the Tewaaraton Trophy last year, and today she was at it again with five goals. What makes her so tough to play against?
KAH: Yeah, she's pretty dynamic. She can pass, she can go to goal, she can do it all. She's real competitive, too. This year, she has a great complement of people. We have a lot of good players around her, and they've done a good job.
SoP: Speaking of that supporting cast, Erin Fitzgerald came through with four goals, and you guys seem to be getting a really balanced attack in these first two games.
KAH: Yeah, we're getting production from those guys up front and from our midfielders, as well. We just need to keep continuing to improve evey game, and that's the key for us.
SoP: One last question, which I'm told that some people are curious about: shorts vs. skirts. When did you guys start wearing shorts and what went into that decision?
KAH: We changed it in 2007, I think, and I just feel like most sports wear shorts. Some of the bigger sports, like women's basketball and soccer, they wear shorts, so I just figured we'd change it up.